Students Evaluating Teachers

Zoom out. How can teachers be evaluated? To my knowledge, only the following:

1. "Expert observer" -- principal, outsider, skilled peer -- who watch teachers in action 2. Test scores of kids -- growth model 3. Surveys of students, and/or parents 4. Other teacher inputs -- attendance, for example, or "does more" -- starts a club, mentors another teacher, etc

Am I missing anything?

Great article by Amanda Ripley in the Atlantic. It's about the student surveys that Ron Ferguson developed to evaluate teachers.

The survey did not ask Do you like your teacher? Is your teacher nice? This wasn’t a popularity contest. The survey mostly asked questions about what students saw, day in and day out.

Of the 36 items included in the Gates Foundation study, the five that most correlated with student learning were very straightforward:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

When Ferguson and Kane shared these five statements at conferences, teachers were surprised. They had typically thought it most important to care about kids, but what mattered more, according to the study, was whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be. As most of us remember from our own school days, those two conditions did not always coexist: some teachers had high levels of control, but low levels of rigor.

At Match Teacher Coaching in New Orleans, we use the Ferguson student surveys to measure the effect of our coaching. Regular blog readers will remember our work there. It's a randomized trial. We have 90 interested teachers this year. We're coaching 45 or so, selected at random.

Our evaluator Matt Kraft licensed the student survey tool from Ferguson. Matt used it as one way to measure our effect on teachers last year. He found:

Most importantly, students rated treatment teachers’ (those who received MTC coaching) ability to challenge them with rigorous work and control the classroom 0.28 (p=.04) and 0.14 (p=.45) sd higher on the TRIPOD student survey as compared to control teachers.

That is, Erica and her coaching colleagues succeeded in getting teachers to increase the rigor of what kids do during class -- at least that is the perception of the kids themselves.

Back to Ripley:

No one knows whether the survey data will become less reliable as the stakes rise. (Memphis schools are currently studying their surveys to check for such distortions, with results expected later this year.) Kane thinks surveys should count for 20 to 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluations—enough for teachers and principals to take them seriously, but not enough to motivate teachers to pander to students or to cheat by, say, pressuring students to answer in a certain way.

Ferguson, for his part, is torn. He is wary of forcing anything on teachers—but he laments how rarely schools that try the surveys use the results in a systematic way to help teachers improve. On average over the past decade, only a third of teachers even clicked on the link sent to their e-mail inboxes to see the results. Presumably, more would click if the results affected their pay. For now, Ferguson urges schools to conduct the survey multiple times before making it count toward performance reviews.

Read whole thing.

Also, Orin pointed me to an engaging feature by Peg Tyre in the same issue. It's about a high school with laser focus on teaching writing.

Although New Dorp teachers had observed students failing for years, they never connected that failure to specific flaws in their own teaching. They watched passively as Deirdre DeAngelis got rid of the bad apples on the staff; won foundation money to break the school into smaller, more personalized learning communities; and wooed corporate partners to support after-school programs. Nothing seemed to move the dial.

Her decision in 2008 to focus on how teachers supported writing inside each classroom was not popular. “Most teachers,” said Nell Scharff, an instructional expert DeAngelis hired, “entered into the process with a strongly negative attitude.” They were doing their job, they told her hotly. New Dorp students were simply not smart enough to write at the high-school level. You just had to listen to the way the students talked, one teacher pointed out—they rarely communicated in full sentences, much less expressed complex thoughts. “It was my view that these kids didn’t want to engage their brains,” Fran Simmons, who teaches freshman English, told me. “They were lazy.”

Have any of my readers visited New Dorp? I'm wondering if it meets the hype. How does it work?

The Hochman Program, as it is sometimes called, would not be unfamiliar to nuns who taught in Catholic schools circa 1950. Children do not have to “catch” a single thing. They are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts—but, because, and so. They are instructed on how to use appositive clauses to vary the way their sentences begin. Later on, they are taught how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own. It is, at least initially, a rigid, unswerving formula. “I prefer recipe,” Hochman says, “but formula? Yes! Okay!”

I want to know more. Ray -- put this on your list.

Also, the Atlantic has a third edu-story of interest: Dana no relation Goldstein profiles a guy I've met a few times, David Coleman. David is a key player in the Common Core.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told me after the Delaware session. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms.

I believe the biggest upside that remains unexploited in No Excuses charters is the curriculum. We, too, have much that is watered down.

All in all, it's a heck of a magazine issue. Good work, team.